- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

PHOENIX — Raja Bell supplied the grit, and his Phoenix teammates took care of the offense.

As a result, the Suns are even again with the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals.

Leandro Barbosa scored 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting and the Suns, regrouping after a lifeless home loss in Game 3 two nights earlier, ran away from the Mavericks 106-86 last night.

Tied 2-2, the series returns to Dallas for Game 5 tomorrow night.

Boris Diaw added 20 points, including a pair of emphatic fourth-quarter dunks that helped the Suns build a 25-point lead.

Steve Nash had 21 points and seven assists, and Shawn Marion scored 15 points.

Bell made a surprise start for the Suns after missing the last two games with a slight tear in his left calf. He had only nine points but gave some much-needed intensity to the team in 32 minutes of play.

“I’ve been to war all season with these guys,” Bell told TNT at halftime. “I wasn’t going to watch tonight.”

Dirk Nowitzki managed only 11 points for the Mavericks on 3-for-13 shooting, breaking a string of 42 games when he’s scored at least 20 points. It was the first time he’s scored fewer than 25 points in the Mavericks’ eight games against Phoenix this season.

Josh Howard led the Mavericks with 16 but left with an apparent shin injury with 5:47 left.

Phoenix never trailed after the first quarter. The Mavericks stayed close, despite the shooting woes of Nowitzki, until the Suns blew it open with a 20-4 outburst at the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth.

Jason Terry’s second 3-pointer of the quarter cut the Suns’ lead to 67-65 with 3:49 left in the third. But Dallas went cold and the Suns finished the quarter with a 12-2 run. Five Phoenix players scored in the surge, capped by Marion’s stuff with 37 seconds left, putting the Suns ahead 79-67 entering the fourth quarter.

Diaw dunked over Nowitzki for a three-point play to start the fourth quarter to make it 82-67. Another dunk by Diaw ended the surge and put Phoenix firmly in control for good, 87-69, with 10:14 left.

The Suns shot 54 percent, including 7-for-15 on 3-pointers, compared with 42 percent for the Mavericks.

Terry and Adrian Griffin added 13 points apiece for Dallas, which regained the home-court advantage in the series with its 95-88 victory Sunday night.

With a chance to go up 3-1, then close it out at home, the Mavericks fell flat.

For the first half, though, they weren’t in bad shape, despite some awful statistics.

The Suns shot 59 percent, Nowitzki was 1-for-7 and Terry 1-for-5, and still the Mavericks were down only 51-46 at the break.

Bell made a jumper and had a no-look assist as the Suns made their first five shots to take a 12-4 lead. But the Mavericks came back to twice take a one-point lead in the first quarter, which ended in a 28-28 tie.

The Suns used an 11-2 run to go up 43-34 on Tim Thomas’ 19-footer with 6:57 left in the half. During the spurt, Nash sank a free throw after a technical on Dallas coach Avery Johnson after Howard was called for an offensive foul against Bell. Nash also made an inadvertent 16-footer when his lob pass intended for Marion went in.

Consecutive driving layups by Barbosa put Phoenix ahead 49-40 with 3:24 left in the half. Howard converted a three-point play, Terry dunked from the baseline, then made one of two free throws to cut it to 49-46 with 32 seconds left before the half.

Nash made a 12-footer, then Nowitzki missed a jumper at the halftime buzzer and Phoenix led 51-46.

Notes — The Suns’ Kurt Thomas, sidelined since Feb. 22 with a stress fracture, played the final 5:47. … Coach Johnson’s wife, Cassandra, got into a nose-to-nose argument with a Suns fan in the first half, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban joined in her verbal defense. The fan was escorted away by security personnel. … The Suns, an 84-percent free throw shooting team in the playoffs, were 13-for-21 at the line.


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